CSR business as usual? The case of the tobacco industry

Journal of Business Ethics 61 (4):387 - 401 (2005)
Tobacco companies have started to position themselves as good corporate citizens. The effort towards CSR engagement in the tobacco industry is not only heavily criticized by anti-tobacco NGOs. Some opponents such as the the World Health Organization have even categorically questioned the possibility of social responsibility in the tobacco industry. The paper will demonstrate that the deep distrust towards tobacco companies is linked to the lethal character of their products and the dubious behavior of their representatives in recent decades. As a result, tobacco companies are not in the CSR business in the strict sense. Key aspects of mainstream CSR theory and practice such as corporate philanthropy, stakeholder collaboration, CSR reporting and self-regulation, are demonstrated to be ineffective or even counterproductive in the tobacco industry. Building upon the terminology used in the leadership literature, the paper proposes to differentiate between transactional and transformational CSR arguing that tobacco companies can only operate on a transactional level. As a consequence, corporate responsibility in the tobacco industry is based upon a much thinner approach to CSR and has to be conceptualized with a focus on transactional integrity across the tobacco supply chain.
Keywords CSR  corporate philanthropy  organizational legitimacy  tobacco industry  the common good  integrity  transactional CSR  transformational CSR
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